Report: Log of Ohio death row inmate Billy Slagle's suicide falsified

COLUMBUS, Ohio - An Ohio prison report released Monday says that one and possibly two prison guards apparently falsified an electronic log documenting checks on a death row inmate who committed suicide just days before his execution was to go forward despite a rare plea for mercy from a prosecutor.

One of the officers also did not conduct the rounds as required by orders for that unit, the report said. Also, it said, lighting in death row cells at night is inadequate and inmates continue to block the windows with paper and other materials despite ongoing efforts to deter that behavior.

The report comes at a time of heightened awareness of prison suicides in Ohio. An inmate at Lebanon Correctional Facility in southwest Ohio committed suicide last week, just days after convicted Cleveland kidnapper and rapist Ariel Castro hanged himself in his cell with a bedsheet on Sept. 3.

The nine-page report does not say whether the guards, if they had followed the rules, could have prevented the Aug. 4 death row suicide of condemned killer Billy Slagle. Slagle was just minutes away from being placed on close observation that is mandatory in the 72 hours before an execution.

His Aug. 7 execution appeared on track despite the plea for mercy from the prosecutor in Cuyahoga County, home to Cleveland, who argued that Slagle should never have received a death sentence.

Prosecutor Tim McGinty cited Slagle's age -- he was just 18 when he fatally stabbed his neighbor Mari Anne Pope -- and a long history of drug and alcohol addiction. McGinty said under his office's current policy he would not have pursued a death penalty charge.

Slagle, 44, also died not knowing that his attorneys planned a last-minute appeal, based on evidence provided by McGinty that Slagle had been offered a plea deal before his 1988 trial but his original attorneys never informed him.

The two corrections officers named in the review have been placed on paid administrative leave as the prisons agency investigates. Someone "did falsify the electronic log book for rounds," the report said.

A message was left with the union representing prison guards about the allegations. Slagle's attorneys said they were aware of the report, but they did not immediately offer a response.

Based on recommendations in the report, the prisons agency will begin relying on mental health experts to determine if the pre-execution 72-hour watch period should be lengthened for individual inmates.
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Andrew Welsh-Huggins can be reached on Twitter at https://twitter.com/awhcolumbus .

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